I know what that’s like, you can talk to me

Everyone I love right now is going through possibly the worst thing they’ve ever gone through. Life has become an endless cycle of work from home Zoom conferences, cooking tutorials, grocery lists, cups of tea, jumping jacks in the balcony and obsessive tracking of the global pandemic.

Who knew?

I’m ‘quarantining’ right now. That’s the catchphrase. You’re probably reading this in between breaks after watching yet another Instagram live chat. Maybe you got into a Twitter fight about the government’s healthcare package. Maybe someone posted on their Facebook wall about an extended curfew and you started freaking out.

Maybe you just donated to UNICEF or WHO or Oxfam, trying to get PPEs to Doctors and Nurses. Or you stood outside your home, applauding essential workers. You could be straightening your hair, putting on make-up and wearing your best shoes, knowing all the while you’re not going to go anywhere. You just want to feel better.

An apocalyptic world under attack from a virus. We’re at home, we’re staying safe, we’re being clean. We don’t know what the hell happened, or what to do to survive this or if things will ever be OK. Life is like the movie Groundhog Day. Bill Murray on a loop. You do know who else lives like that right?

People with mental illness.

I was diagnosed with Depression and Anxiety in 2019. By the time our Prime Minister announced a 21-day lockdown on national television, I’d been in self-isolation for two years. Right now, you’re wondering when you can go out again. Maybe go dancing at a club. Karaoke with the family. A date to a fancy restaurant. A movie with friends. Catch the bus. Turn up at your office. For you, this is an emergency period. It’s temporary. It will lift, you will come out, you will move on.

For me, it’s life.

But for now, we’re in the same boat. So I like that we’re getting to know each other better; we have compassion for one another. I for you, because I know how it feels to be you. And you for me, because you had no idea how it felt to be me.

I have a routine, believe me, that’s the only way to get by. I wake up at exactly the same time every day. I drink lots of water. I have breakfast. I check in with my therapist. I meditate. Then I put on something on Netflix, like Love is Blind or the Ted Bundy Tapes so I can vamp about it with my friends on text. Then I get started with my business.

I’m an activist and I work from home, WFH before it got trendy; I run an independent legal consultation and counselling business. My clients are victims of domestic abuse, survivors of sexual assault and teenagers with mental illness. I keep it to two clients a day, because each session is a headfirst dive into somebody else’s pool of pain. When I emerge at the end of the session after what feels like 50 laps, both the client and feel light-headed because it’s a relief to both my client and I that we haven’t drowned. Then I go shopping for groceries and medicines. I don’t look at anyone and I stay away from everyone as a habit (this wasn’t normal before the pandemic, but now it is). I come back home and cook my meals. Then a nap because I’m always in energy-saving mode. Energy is precious, I can’t ever take it for granted.

(As I write this, Lucky Ali is playing on the boombox. He’s singing “O Sanam”. Am I the only one who tears up at that?)

In the evening, I check in with my support group. I run a support group for women by the way, which oddly enough, is really catching on. We’re all talking about how we feel and it’s actually quite therapeutic. Then there might be a session with an advocate or a mental health professional where we come up with legal and psychological strategies to handle a difficult case. That might be followed by a quick conference call with my best friends where we’re just checking up on each other and talking about how we’re staying sane.

Then dinner, while binge-watching shows, romantic comedies or thrillers from the 90s. Whatever I need I order online. Clothes. Electronics. Appliances. Cosmetics. Books. Vegetables and frozen chicken. There’s an App called Wysa, that keeps track of my mood. WordsWithFriends where I play scrabble with complete strangers. Skype and Google Hangouts whenever I want to see a friendly face or go out on a virtual date. Buzzfeed to do random quizzes that determine your personality type. Google Pay because I’m going cashless.

I listen to podcasts frequently: Unqualified, Clear+Vivid, Off Camera, Today In Focus, Directionally Challenged, Curiosity Daily, My Dad Wrote A Porno, I Weigh, The Guilty Feminist, ID10T, Global Pillage, Happy Sad Confused, Modern Love and SuperSoul Sundays. I’ll make a playlist on Spotify and listen to one song over and over again- right now I can’t stop listening to I’m Coming Down by the Dum Dum Girls. I read before I go to bed: Michelle Paver’s Dark Matter, Gavin De Becker’s Gift of Fear or a classic, like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

When I sleep, I wonder what I’ll dream about tonight. I hate to admit this, but I don’t want to wake up ever again. I don’t know what the next day is going to bring so I’d much rather stay in this sleepy universe where you could be leaping off a building and taking flight or you could be skinny dipping with a boyfriend.

I don’t want to wake up, because everything is uncertain and unknown with a mental illness just as it is for you with a global pandemic. You have good days and bad days, but there are never any great days. You’re just trying to get through it, one day at a time. Waiting, wanting, hoping, to go back to normal.

A friend asked me the other day: How did I feel watching everyone else go through exactly what I’d been going through all this time, quietly? Was there anything that I was grateful for during self-isolation?

Yes. Before, I was just your annoying friend always asking you if you had the time to talk to me. You didn’t and I get that.

But now I’m that sagacious friend of yours, who always has time for you when you’re going through a panic attack because you saw the ticker tape on a news channel, because you lost your job, or because you looked outside and realised you don’t know when it’ll be safe again to go out. I’m always the one to tell you now, “I know what that’s like, you can talk to me”

I promise, you will make it out of this alive. I will not give up on you or walk away or ignore you just because it’s too damn hard. I will do everything I can to get you through this.

I just have a small favour to ask of you.

Don’t forget me, when all this is over.